Lawyers for Human Rights
Jessica Lawrence, 32, a senior attorney, is presently the programme manager of the environmental rights programme at Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR). She is inspired by a line The Wretched of the Earth, by Frantz Fanon: “Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it.” She says: “It is up to us to determine whether we will accept that mission or whether we will turn away. I see my mission as a continuation of the struggle of our past: the achievement of social justice, equality, equity and a society that is free from all forms of oppression.” Jessica has participated in impact litigation and strategic advocacy to address systemic issues with South Africa’s asylum system and xenophobia. Jessica has litigated cases that have changed the lives of her clients and the broader migrant community. She was the head of the LHR’s labour unit prior to leading the Johannesburg Law Clinic, where she started strategic litigation to create legal protection for precarious workers. She holds an LLB and an LLM in human rights law and constitutional development from the University of Johannesburg. Jessica has represented the LHR in Geneva during the 2022 negotiations on a legally binding United Nations treaty on business and human rights. She has mentored many young people who now work in the civil society sector. Her incredible approach to management has produced many great lawyers whom she encouraged to use the law as a positive tool for the betterment of the lives of the most marginalised.
- MSc in international human rights law candidate, University of Oxford, 2023
- LLM, University of Johannesburg
- LLB, University of Johannesburg
- 2022 Fortune: US Department of State Global Women’s Mentoring Partnership mentee
- 2022 Mandela Washington Fellowship candidate
Memories of my mom encouraging me to pursue my dreams and trust the voice inside of me, always, has spurred me to achieve. It is this encouragement that has allowed me to trust myself over the years and stay true to my beliefs and ambitions, regardless of fear.
I would tell my younger self to lean into my authentic self and let go of who I think I’m supposed to be and embrace who I am. Choosing authenticity means cultivating the courage to be imperfect, to set boundaries and to allow ourselves to be vulnerable, exercising the compassion that comes from knowing that we are all made of strength and struggle.
In five years, I would like to see less complacency within society regarding social justice issues and people across all class, race and ethnic lines taking an active role in challenging injustice, supporting the working class struggles and holding the government responsible for their obligations to all those who live in South Africa, in particular the poor and vulnerable.